Big clubs set for a nervy time in the Champions League

Some of Europe’s biggest clubs are in for a nervy night as they bid to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Manchester City are the 5/2 favourites to win the tournament in the Champions League betting odds and predictions from most pundits say they will progress to the last eight.

Raheem Sterling’s last-minute goal gave City the advantage with a stunning 3-2 comeback win in the reverse fixture and they should comfortably make it through.

Juventus face a huge task as they try and overturn a two-goal deficit against Atletico Madrid at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.

Late goals from Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin secured a 2-0 victory for Atletico in the first leg and Juve will have their work cut out to reach the last eight.

The result saw Atletico’s Champions League odds slashed to 9/1 and they are sure to be cut further if they can see off the current Serie A leaders.

Barcelona will fancy their chances of progressing when they go head-to-head with Lyon at the Nou Camp.

The two sides drew 0-0 in the first fixture, but Barca should prove far too strong back on home soil. The Spanish side are unbeaten in their last 10 matches in all competitions and look good value at 9/2 to win the Champions League.

The most intriguing tie of the round is the heavyweight clash between Bayern Munich and Liverpool at the Allianz Arena.

The two sides drew 0-0 at Anfield and Bayern’s recent home record against English clubs makes them favourites to reach the last eight.

The Bundesliga side have won their last four matches at home to English clubs, while Liverpool have suffered four successive away Champions League defeats.

Liverpool were beaten by Real Madrid in last year’s final, while Bayern have lost in the semi-finals in four of the last five campaigns, including last season’s defeat by Madrid.

The Reds have pulled off remarkable results in this competition before, but Bayern look great value at 10/11 to progress to the next stage.

Unai Emery’s Gamble Pays Off Against Manchester United

Unai Emery has been slipping under the radar in his debut role as manager for Arsenal. The pressure is definitely on Emery since he replaced Arsene Wenger. However, in comparison to his rivals, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla head coach has had to battle to get honestly noticed.

He hasn’t been showered with the same praise that is usually lavished on Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. Managing to escape the scrutiny that has been weighing down Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. As for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, the ups and down for Emery at the Emirates have been wiped out by the noise surrounding the two managers at Old Trafford at the beginning of the season.

Arsenal vs Manchester United

However, the 2-0 victory against Manchester United this weekend saw Emery give a perfect reminder of his credentials and managed to answer a wide range of questions in the process. This was a match that Arsenal had to win if they wanted to finish in the qualification places within the Premier League’s Champions League. Also, the team also had to bounce back after a 3-1 defeat against Rennes in the Europa League.

With the return fixture on the horizon later this week, Arsenal’s season was hostile to hence on the outcome of two huge matches. Defeat in the first match, against Manchester United who claimed a phenomenal win against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, would have been a devastating setback for the Gunners top-four hopes. However, Emery decided to be bold.

Most believed that he was reckless to choose a complete attacking line-up against a team that hasn’t lost a game since Solskjaer joined in December. It seemed like Emery was about to make the same mistakes Wenger did against elite teams, by overloading on the attack and hoping for the best.

Nonetheless, he decided to include Mesut Ozil, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Aaron Ramsey ahead of Granit Xhaka along with Nacho Monreal, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Laurent Koscielny as the back three. This was all set up correctly to stifle Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford.

Apart from the bad finishes that were produced by Manchester United, Arsenal’s approach worked beautifully. Defending was a significant issue for Arsenal under Wegner. After watching the game over the weekend, there’s no doubt that all of this has been rectified under Emery. During the closing stages of the match, supporters of Arsenal sang that they were coming for Tottenham Hotspur who are only one point away on the Premier League table.

The Upcoming Battle

With Tottenham getting destroyed by Southampton over the weekend, it dragged Hotspur back into the fight. Therefore, we are going to see a marvellous battle for fourth place between Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal has played all their elite games, while Tottenham still has to face Man City and Liverpool. United also need to host Chelsea and Man City before the Premier League comes to an end.

Pochettino Is Approaching a Crossroads at Tottenham Hotspur

When you listen to the recent comments from Mauricio Pochettino, you will be forgiven for believing that the manager for Tottenham Hotspur is talking himself out of his job.

Let’s take you back to the end of the previous season. When the Tottenham Hotspur manager insisted that his team must take risks and be brave if they wish to be real contenders to claim trophies. This was something that didn’t get anyone’s attention. Tottenham is making no signings during the summer as they were more focused on moving to their brand-new stadium during September. We are currently in March, and the squad is still playing matches at Wembley.

Pochettino’s Cry for Help

Pochettino was repeating his call for a better and bolder approach earlier this season “If we wish to claim titles, we will be required to operate differently because, as it stands. We are operating in the same way as we did five years ago.” We are doing a brilliant job.

However, if we wish to be true contenders, we seriously need to consider operating in a different way going forward.” Once again, Pochettino’s cry for help went unnoticed as Tottenham once again couldn’t sign a player during the transfer window in January.

Fast forward to last week, where Tottenham lost 2-1 against Burnley in a match that managed to end their title dreams. The angry post-match confrontation from Pochettino with Mike Dean as the referee of the game. You’ll quickly realise that his claims are true and Tottenham is still a decade away from being the club that it should be.

Mauricio Pochettino

Pochettino is an intelligent man. He is well aware of the vacancy that is available at Manchester United along with the potential to transfer to Real Madrid during the summer as well. Also, with the uncertainty surrounding Maurizio Sarri, there could be a new opening at Chelsea too towards the end of the 2018/19 season.

So everything that was said by Pochettino could be designed to turn things around for the chairman of Spurs in a bid to get precisely what he needed. Where he can take a squad of players and transform them into winners. The chairman of Tottenham Hotspurs.

Daniel Levy is well aware that he could lose his prestigious manager to wealthier, more prosperous and bigger clubs as it stands, so he should listen to what the Hotspurs manager has to say. However, there’s also the possibility that the manager’s cry for help is not strategic at all. Perhaps he is merely stating the frustrations that might force him to look for a new challenge somewhere else.

Only time will be able to tell, and the much-needed answer is going to occur at the end of the current season, there’s no doubt about that. However, unless something changes at Tottenham, Pochettino is in grave danger to repeat the mistakes that were made by Everton and David Moyes.

Mesut Ozil Fails To Impress Unai Emery

There’s no denying that there’s a whiff of the undesired when you look at the Europa Leagues. During the early stages of the tournament before the dream of claiming victory to qualify for the prestigious Champions League, the implication could be that players requested to appear in a match are not in favor with the manager in terms of his first-choice of 11 players.

Mesut Ozil

With that in mind, it wasn’t unexpected that Mesut Ozil started for Arsenal after Unai Emery named him for the squad. This was the first time since the 26th of December 2018 during their 3-0 win when they faced BATE Borisov in the Europa League round of 32.

The never-ending saga of Mesut Ozil’s career at Arsenal remains intensely curious and is something that would make absolutely no sense to anyone that is unfamiliar with the inconsistent nature of football. A little over a year ago, Mesut Ozil signed an attractive new contract with Arsenal. However, since Unai Emery took over from Arsene Wenger, Ozil’s stock has fallen.

However, this match witnessed him back in the squad, taking the number 10 role, just behind Aubameyang. This provided the perfect chance for Unai Emery to give Mesut Ozil another opportunity on the field. The match was not as important as other games. However, after a 1-0 defeat at the hands of BATE during the first-leg, there was just enough danger to suggest that he was getting a serious opportunity.

“It was such an amazing feeling to walk on the pitch again,” Mesut Ozil stated on Twitter following the match. In an era where social media is analysed and over analysed thereafter, it was quite refreshing to see his words point to a statement that essentially said: “Great to be back in the game, it’s about time.”

Even if Unai Emery was not impressed, Ozil is still an immensely popular player in various quarters once his name was announced before kickoff. Ozil was greeted by welcoming cheers from his home fans, and it provided an extra layer of excitement to the game in the process.

The Match Against BATE

From the previous performances provided by Ozil in the last five years with Arsenal, perhaps the recent game where he was featured for a full 90 minutes proved why. Mesut Ozil is one of the best players in the world but had little impact in his recent game. This is the main reason why he is a frustration to fans and his manager.

Ozil was predominantly in the background for most of the match, occasionally making an appearance to provide a neat pass or pleasantly combining with Alex Iwobi. However, there was nothing more from him when he made his debut for the first time in 2019.

Ozil played well, and he was exceptional throughout the game. However, when you have a manager that is looking for more than just fine, it’s certainly not good enough.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Outclassed and Outsmarted by PSG

There is absolutely no hiding place when it comes to the Champions League. However, we are quite confident that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was searching for one. This was after his team was outsmarted and outclassed by PSG in the first leg of the round of 16 while playing at Old Trafford.

As if being defeated 2-0 by a venomous PSG wasn’t bad enough, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also had to witness two of his sensational forwards, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, limp off the pitch with injuries. He also watched as Paul Pogba received a red card in the closing stages of the match. That will rule him out when Manchester United plays the second leg in his home city on 6 March 2019.

Manchester United vs PSG

It was essentially one of those night for Manchester United. The home side went into the match with extremely high optimism. However, the experience and class of PSG shined through against the limitations and naivety of Manchester United.

“This match was essentially a reality check for the level of experience and class from top-tier teams,“ Solskjaer stated. “You can clearly see that we haven’t played matches at this level for a long time. It was an experience that could have gone either way, but it will definitely not be a defining one for the team this season. It’s going to be a match that we will learn a great deal from. Once we make our way to Paris, we will certainly give it a go. There’s no denying that it’s a mountain to climb, but it’s definitely not impossible.”

Since Solskjaer replaced Mourinho in early December 2018, he has done an incredible job as Manchester United’s caretaker manager as he won 10 out of 11 matches and drawing with another. However, this was an evening when reality kicked him hard.

Paris Saint-Germain was missing key players due to injury including Edinson Cavani and Neymar. However, their absence was hardly noticed as Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, and Kylian Mbappe helped lead them to victory. That allowed them to get one foot into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

Solskjaer’s Streak Comes to an End

The unbeaten start by Solskjaer came to an end when he faced PSG as his game plan and selection were both exposed by his opponents. Momentum can only take you that far, and PSG showed the need to win on an unforgiving stage within the Champions League. Solskjaer might have had the tactical plan in the locker room, but it failed to materialise on the pitch that evening in front of a home crowd. Marquinhos was the man-maker on Paul Pogba, who has managed to be the central figure in Manchester United’s resurgence. As you can imagine, Paul Pogba was entirely nullified.

Solskjaer failed the test against PSG in the Champions League, and it seems like he is not the permanent manager we all hoped he would be. However, he still has a chance to turn things around in the next couple of weeks.

Manchester City Prove They Can Still Win the Premier League Title

Manchester City managed to disprove the old proverb in the previous season that the title race in the Premier League is a marathon instead of a sprint. Manchester City was so far ahead of other clubs last season that they managed to win by 19 points after accumulating a total of 100 points. It was seen as a progression instead of a gruelling slog to glory. However, things will certainly be different this time around if they reclaim the title.

Manchester City’s Win Over Everton

Manchester City’s 2-0 victory over Everton on Wednesday at Goodison Park managed to take the reigning champions to the top of the table once again. This allowed them to move ahead of Liverpool thanks to goal difference. However, they played one more match than Liverpool and the match against Everton was considered an ugly victory as they didn’t display any flair that usually accompanies the title success from last season. At least none of that will matter when it comes to the final reckoning. The Premier League title race this season will be determined by substance as opposed to style and, at the moment, Manchester City has the edge over all the other clubs.

Even Pep Guardiola hinted after the victory against Everton that the challenges of the title race this year are far more demanding than a year ago. “I’m not 100% sure how far we will get in the Premier League this year, perhaps we will flake out on the road,” stated Guardiola. “However, we will continue to try. Although we played one more match than Liverpool, it’s fantastic to be at the top. However, Liverpool does have a game in hand at Old Trafford against Manchester United. Should they win, we will lose our spot at the top and will need to wait once again.”

Early Signs of Fatigue

Maybe this is the inevitability of a Premier League season following a World Cup that the huge clubs, along with their players, are starting to feel the strain much earlier than usual. Although we are still in midseason in early February, both Liverpool and Manchester City are starting to show signs of fatigue, mentally and physically. Neither of them is performing as good as they did at the start of the season. Liverpool has managed to drop more points in the last six weeks when compared to the points they lost from August through to December.  Manchester City is still licking their wounds after the devastating loss against Newcastle in the previous week.

Most opponents are now entering matches against these title chasers and believe they can emerge with 1 point at the very least. That has a huge impact on Liverpool and Manchester City, who needs to work harder than before to secure a win. The title race will be determined by these two clubs, even though Tottenham is only 5 points behind. It will all come down to how each club handles fatigue at the end.

Manchester City’s Defeat Against Newcastle

Manchester City’s hopes for the title suffered a massive blow after a shocking 2-1 defeat against Newcastle United. After just 24 seconds into the match, Sergio Aguero managed to give the champions a lead. However, a penalty from Matt Ritchie along with a goal from Salomon Rondon stunned every visitor in the stadium.

Manchester City Positives

Manchester City’s imposing trio at midfield, including Fernandinho, David Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne managed to start together for the second time in the 2018/19 season and was the first time this occurred in the Premier League. One of the most impressive players for Manchester City is undoubtedly Bernardo Silva. However, the three midfielders that started when they faced Newcastle United were the pivot of the side that managed to produce a record-breaking title pace during the previous season.

Manchester City Negatives

Manchester City’s hopes for the title is hanging by a thread following yet another shocking defeat at the hands of a football club that is currently on the bottom half of the Premier League table. Manchester City will fall 7 points behind Liverpool should they manage to claim a victory against Leicester on Wednesday evening.

What’s truly surprising is that Manchester City’s challenge for the title has been derailed by inferior clubs when they have managed to cope extremely well against their top-tier rivals. However, the champions, unfortunately, lacked the killer instinct that they had during their title season. They are simply sloppy and lethargic at the moment.

Pep Guardiola

The Manchester City manager didn’t make any changes during half-time when the club needed a fresh pair of legs after enduring a horrible first half. He continuously wants his team to push forward and obtain goals. However, they didn’t pose a huge treat following their first-minute goal.

Manchester City Player Ratings

Ederson – Was unable to keep Rondon’s overhead kick out and Ritchie’s spectacular penalty from skidding underneath him.

Kyle Walker – Was quite solid in terms of defense but was unable to get forward like he usually does.

John Stones – Had an extremely difficult time against Rondon who managed to grab the equaliser.

Aymeric Laporte – His passing skills were not on par this time around. He managed to give the ball away on more than one occasion and placed Fernandinho in massive trouble for the unfortunate penalty.

Danilo – He managed to settle in at left-back but experienced one of his most difficult nights and was out of position a few times during the match.

Fernandinho – Solid performance throughout the match until he was unfortunately caught in possession in the box before he gave away a penalty.

Kevin De Bruyne – He was all over the field and managed to unlock the defense of Newcastle. A smart free-kick should have provided a second goal for Aguero. However, the referee booked him due to the fact that he took it too quickly.

David Silva – Was very unfortunate not to score in the match with his header. His touches were also quite heavy which is not normally the case.

Mauricio Pochettino is Running Out of Opportunities To Prove His Worth

There’s no denying that Mauricio Pochettino has the ability to make football teams better. He can demand high-intensity attacking and can improve players. However, is the manager for Tottenham Hotspur, a winner?

After Tottenham missed a place in the Carabao Cup final next month, following a devastating penalty-shootout loss against Chelsea in the semi-final second leg on Thursday, Tottenham managed to lose 2-1 that evening after claiming a 1-0 win during the home leg. Therefore, it’s a legitimate question to ask regarding a manager that is already on high demand for Real Madrid and Manchester United.

Mauricio Pochettino as a Manager

The former centre back for Tottenham Hotspur will argue that he has a ruthless streak when it comes to delivering major honours at Hotspur. However, when everything is on the line, Pochettino and his team usually fall short.

The legendary managers in football, including Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, and Sir Alex Ferguson, managed to become the best in their profession by always finding the edge and using a unique way to win once the pressure was truly on. However, this is another example where Pochettino was unable to deliver when facing an important game as his team selection left him open to criticism and scrutiny.

This was a match where Tottenham was without three vital players, including Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli, and Harry Kane. These three players have managed to score a total of 39 goals for Tottenham in all competitions during this season. Therefore, Pochettino couldn’t afford to be without any more senior players.

However, despite the massive holes in his Tottenham squad, he stuck with his choice to include Paulo Gazzaniga as the keeper, who has always been a second choice, in this clash and left World-cup winner and captain, Hugo Lloris, on the bench as a substitute. This is obviously a very small detail, but they usually make a significant difference when it comes to playing at an elite level. The fact remains, Pochettino weakened his squad when he decided to go with Gazzaniga and his error provided Chelsea with a lead.

Mourinho, Guardiola, and Ferguson have all utilised a backup goalkeeper in important semi-finals and even during finals. However, none of them would have taken the same risk as Pochettino with so many figures absent from the squad. Pochettino treats domestic competitions very lightly, stating that success in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup is not a priority. However, with no silverware making its way to Tottenham in recent seasons, he cannot be so choosy in terms of which trophy is more important.

With Pochettino, Tottenham lost the Carabao Cup semi-final and two semi-finals in the FA Cup. They managed to reach the final in the League Cup during the 2014/15 season, only to be defeated by Chelsea. Pochettino said that he is very proud of his team after suffering this loss at Stamford Bridge. However, for Pochettino to be considered an elite manager, he will be required to win something and give the impression that every trophy in football matters.

How Borussia Dortmund Made It To The Top of the League

It was 2008 and Dortmund, who won the Champions League in 1997, the German champions in 2002, and the EUFA Cup runners-up in 2002, realised that they no longer had the potential to compete on the Bundesliga table.

In a recent interview, Michael Zorc, the sporting director for Borussia Dortmund stated “Everyone considered us as a Champions League club, and although we felt like one, we couldn’t deliver on the pitch anymore. We were asking ourselves: how on earth can we be successful without the necessary economic resources?”

Thirteenth, ninth, seventh, seventh, sixth. Borussia Dortmund had become a second-tier team within the German top-flight league and were unable to invest in the team due to not-so-distant sins from the past. Failure to qualify for the largest club competition within EUFA and wild over-spending during 2005 caused a huge dilemma for the team. 

The hiring of an innovative, young coach who coached a minor football club at second division was part of the answer, and his name was Jurgen Klopp. However, both the poor finances from Dortmund and the high-energy tactics from the new coach cried for a different team in the process, and this helped see transfer requirements change overnight.

How Borussia Dortmund Made a Comeback

Dortmund essentially stopped searching for mid-market, seasoned professionals and instead focused their efforts on young high potentials. So basically players that were starting their footballing careers that were also willing to learn and hungry for the game which also assisted with the balance sheet burdens that plagued the side for a very long time.

During 2007/08, the age average of new recruits were around 27. However, within 12 months, that averaged dropped down to 23 years of age and continued dropping from there. Since then, things have started to turn around in a positive light for the sensational football squad.

Within the last three years, Dortmund has managed to rake in a total of £427 million due to transfers, including Dembele for £103 million, Aubameyang for £57 million, and Pulisic for £57 million. However, the total that Dortmund spends to receive those players was a mere £24 million.

The primary danger for Dortmund as a stepping stone is that football players aren’t as committed to consistently perform well. However, this has not happened at the club as of yet. Dortmund has managed to win two cups and two championships since 2011 and only missed out on the Champions League once within the same period. The latest figures indicated that Dortmund has spent the least amount of money from the top 5 football clubs since 2008.

This is the primary reason why Dortmund has managed to improve over the last few years in terms of financial stability and another reason why the club is performing so well in the Bundesliga at the moment. They continue to make a profit from transfers and continue to find upcoming players at a low price.

Solskjaer’s Tactical Judgement Overcomes Tottenham Hotspur

With 2 minutes remaining on the clock and United leading Tottenham 1-0, Solskjaer was on the edge of the technical area and advised Diogo Dalot to move back from the touchline to congest space in the middle which restricted Tottenham from going through the centre of the football pitch.


Seconds later, the final whistle managed to ensure that Solskjaer successfully passed his first huge test as the caretaker manager for United in incredible fashion, while that small instruction managed to serve as a small-scale version of his day. By screaming instructions to Diogo Dalot, he showcased that he won’t allow his players to turn off and avoid the game plan until the very end.


Manchester United’s Visit to Tottenham


There are several reasons for The Red Devils’ victory at Wembley – the rejuvenated confidence of the fans is certainly a key factor – but this was a match where Solskjaer proved that he could take on a top-tier team and reign supreme in a tactical battle.


Until now, the feel-good factor and momentum managed to propel Manchester United to glorious victories against 5 opponents who, in all honesty, they should be able to defeat on each and every occasion. However, a visit to Tottenham was a completely different beast, especially due to the fact that their coach is the man that is most wanted at Old Trafford to become the permanent replacement for Jose Mourinho.


If would be quite naïve to believe that will change after this result. However, if Solskjaer wants a genuine opportunity to land this job, he will need to prove himself worthy against the best in the league, so this result against Tottenham is a huge tick on that box.


Obviously, there will be tougher and bigger challenges ahead. The Champions League next month against PSG is certainly one of them as well as United’s encounters with Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool before the end of the season.


However, after his team managed to brush aside Reading, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Huddersfield, and Cardiff, Solskjaer was required to make an important statement against a big-six rival, and he achieved it by outfoxing Tottenham’s manager with a plan to deny Tottenham any chance of attacking through the middle.


Solskjaer’s Influence On Manchester United


While the tactical plan from Solskjaer was the foundation to the team’s victory, which allowed the team to move within 6 points of Chelsea in the fourth position, the personality of the 45-year-old has been just as vital in transforming the team for the better. Players were less motivated and down under Mourinho.


However, De Gea made it crystal clear that the gloom has finally lifted, stating that the new manager managed to bring some happiness with him at Old Trafford the moment he walked through the doors. Injecting players with belief and making them feel happy is the simple side of the football. However, when Solskjaer managed to beat Tottenham, he instantly became a serious contender for a permanent position at Old Trafford.